Susan and I enjoy taking long walks, and one of our favorite spots is a roughly two-mile trail around Bass Lake in Holly Springs, North Carolina. Two laps around the wooded trail make for a good outing.
The lake was built to power a gristmill in the late 1800s and was later purchased as a private fishing lake. In 1996, Hurricane Fran ripped through the area and took out the dam, which took care of the lake.
Far-sighted folks led the town of Holly Springs to purchase the property, restore the dam and construct both trails and a nice lakeside clubhouse, where locals can rock on the porch or hold social events. A small commissary sells snacks and bait, along with handling canoe rentals.
The lake is shallow but broad, fed by three creeks and populated by an assortment of geese, ducks, cormorants and turtles. When there’s little wind, the surface can be mirror-smooth, offering a near-perfect reflection of the trees and sky.
That’s what we saw on a recent walk, just after the morning mists had cleared away. I couldn’t resist taking a picture and asking that it be posted upside down. Did you notice?
The scene put me in a thinking mood, pondering how so many of us see the same thing in different ways: What some of us see as right side up, others may see as upside down.
With the same rising COVID-19 statistics before us, some see a rosy picture of having “turned the corner,” while others remain deeply concerned about the importance of social distancing and wearing masks.
Looking at the same homeless family, some of us see hard-working but vulnerable people left jobless by the pandemic, while others see shiftless folk who should have been more prepared.
Reading the same Bible, some of us see a demanding and angry God who threatens punishment for every failure, while others see a loving and compassionate deity who offers grace to the penitent.
Encountering the same gay, lesbian or trans person, some of us see a person brave enough to live out what they believe is their true identity, while others see sinners making a choice to live a deviant lifestyle.
Watching the same weather reports and walking the same earth, some see climate change as a natural cycle ginned up as a political hoax, while others see a world desperately in need of strategic actions to reduce carbon emissions for the sake of future generations.
I could go on, but you get the picture.
I recall being surprised in a junior high science class to learn that when light passes through the lens of our eyes, it is not only focused but also flipped, so that the image displayed on our retina is upside down. Our brain interprets the signals sent through the optic nerve and turns the image right side up.
How we see the world is a product of many things, including our culture, our family, our education, our current environment, our sources of news and our susceptibility to misleading information.
At the end of the day, though, it comes down to what our brain does with what we take in, and whether we are willing and able to exercise the critical thinking skills required to determine what is properly right side up or upside down.
I don’t recall a time when there was ever such a divide over which end is up, especially among people who seek to follow the same Christ.
The metaphor is slightly different, but I take comfort in Paul’s reminder that our vision may be murky now, but one day we will see clearly (1 Corinthians 13:12).
Paul had in mind the day we meet Jesus. I’m praying that it won’t take that long.
Professor of Old Testament at Campbell University Divinity School in Buies Creek, North Carolina, and the Contributing Editor and Curriculum Writer at Good Faith Media.